Solar power isn't just for going off the grid anymore. More and more homeowners are finding solar panels are a great option to supplement their existing power source and lower utility costs.
If you have the cash to make the up-front payment, installing solar panels can be a smart long-term investment. They last for up to 30 years with minimal maintenance. By generating your own electricity, you can reduce or even eliminate your power bill to the electric company. Furthermore, there are federal and state tax credits that can reduce your initial installation costs, making it an even better deal. At the same time, you will be reducing your carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels, making your own contribution to the health of the planet.
How It Works
Your solar system will hook right into the power grid. On sunny days, when you generate more electricity than your house needs, you will actually send the excess out along the power lines. Then at night or on overcast days, you will draw conventional energy from the grid. If your conditions are favorable enough, you can make a profit by creating more electricity than you use overall.
The panels can pay for themselves in saved electricity costs in anywhere from two to 15 years, depending on how much energy you create and your state's incentive programs. Many companies also offer financing options so you don't have to come up with all the cash up-front.
Solar isn't a good solution for every homeowner, however, so consider the following factors when making your decision:
- The Orientation of Your Roof
For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the best sunlight is captured with a roof facing south. Roofs sloping east and west can also capture some energy. Sloped roofs make for the easiest installations, while flat roofs require you to tilt the panels in order to capture the best sunlight.
- Your Roof Quality
What's on your roof matters too. Gables and chimneys can limit the amount of space you have to work with, and if your roof is tile or shake it can add to the installation costs. Finally, consider the age of your roof. If it's due for replacement within the next ten years or so, it might not be the best time to install expensive panels, which will need to be removed when it's time to tear up the shingles. But don't forget, while the roof is usually the best place to install a panel, if yours isn't suitable there are other options like poles or ground mounts.
- The Shade
A solar panel won't do much good if the direct sunlight is blocked by a large tree or tall buildings surrounding your house. Unfortunately, there is little you can do about most blockages other than arranging your panels to accommodate them the best you can.
- The Climate
It goes without saying that sunnier climates produce more solar power, and a rooftop setup in San Diego will be more lucrative than one in Seattle. However, if you do live in a part of the country that tends to be gray and overcast, don't despair. Solar panels can still pick up the sun's energy through the clouds and rain, just not as much.
The Next Steps
If you think your house is a good prospect, the next step is to contact reputable solar installation companies and get some estimates. Their experts can help you go over the costs and savings and make the decision that is right for you.